Belfast Telegraph

Lyric theatre hits back at MLA's criticism

By Dave Whelan

The Lyric theatre in south Belfast has hit back at claims by a senior MLA that it has little to offer the Protestant working class.

At a meeting of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure committee the DUP's William Humphrey criticised decisions made by Belfast City council and the regional government on investment in the Lyric and Mac theatres saying they offered no "tangible benefit to the people in Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy of Ballymacarret".

Urging the Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin to encourage these communities to engage with the arts, Mr Humphrey said that although he welcomed the development the recently refurbished Lyric and newly opened MAC had "little to offer" the working class, and in particularly, the Protestant working class." Adding "Outreach that people other than the BT9ers can buy into is very important."

Both the Lyric and the MAC have rejected the criticism from the north Belfast MLA. In a statement the Lyric said: "Firstly we welcome Mr Humphrey's acknowledgement that the investment has been of great benefit.

"However, we disagree that this investment has not benefited Protestant working class communities.

"Our recent Belfast season of plays dealt directly with Protestant culture in Northern Ireland, including the plays Love, Billy; Weddins, Weeins and Wakes by Marie Jones; Can't Forget About You by David Ireland and Mixed Marriage by St John Ervine.

We have contributed more free tickets to the Test Drive the Arts scheme than any other arts organisation, which has amounted to £100,000 of free tickets in past two years.

"The Pat & Plain project, funded by the Ulster-Scots Agency, won the Lyric a UK-wide award for Cultural Diversity, in which we did outreach work with primary schools across Northern Ireland.

"In terms of attendance at the theatre, 90% of household bookers come from outside the BT9 area, disproving the misconception that only people from south Belfast attend the Lyric.

"In fact, nearly 2,000 households in the Belfast North constituency have attended the Lyric since it reopened in 2011.

"The Lyric has worked hard to offer a full-range of discounts to make theatre attractive to all.

"This includes selling more than 3,600 £5 super saver tickets over the past two years to community groups, as well as £10 tickets for the unemployed."

Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin also rejected the claims saying that the statistics don't back up the claims.

"Recent research has shown that for people living in the most deprived areas, there is almost no difference in their attendance at the arts with 74% from the Protestant Community attending compared to 72% in the Catholic Community," she said.

"Our local theatres are doing their best to outreach to all communities who traditionally have been hard to reach and they have received awards for culture diversity. Pantomimes, exhibitions, locally written plays appeal to audiences of from all communities and all age ranges.

"The arts is there for everyone to enjoy and there is absolutely no foundation to these claims that the Protestant community is being alienated."

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